Tony Benn was first invited to speak to the Tolpuddle Martyrs' Festival in 2000. He has been the star speaker at the annaul festival ever since.
Here was his view of the Festival:
"I’ve been coming to Tolpuddle for several years now and it’s grown in an enormous way. At the heart of the festival is a really important event, namely the formation of the agricultural workers’ union in the West Country that really did change the course of history.
I make it the turning point from feudalism to capitalism/socialism because when the Martyrs came back from Australia people realised that while Parliament remained as it was, they couldn’t change the law, so they campaigned for the vote and the Chartists and the Suffragettes came out of that.
Tolpuddle reminds us we have a tradition as long as the powers that be and I think that’s absolutely critical for the future of the Movement. After all, the establishment has its music – the national anthem, the hymns, military marches and bands are all the music and culture of power – but we have our own music too and Tolpuddle reminds us of that. It gives people a historical perspective to their own struggles.
As a festival it gets better and bigger every year. The only thing I find difficult is it’s on a hill and walking down and up and sideways, I get very unstable on my pins. I go round to all the stands I can and talk to all sorts of people, who have all got their own stories to tell, and the banners – if ever there was an example of art and culture being on our side, you’ve only got to look at those banners to feel part of the Movement.
Tolpuddle gives us the confidence to keep going – that’s what’s so exciting about it. It reminds us that every issue we’ve ever fought, we have to fight over again and again. What they fought then we have to fight now.
Going to the festival is my annual injection. Without it I don’t think I could carry on. We need more Tolpuddles."
Tony and Hilary Benn both spoke in 2004
Tony Benn lays a wreath on the grave of James Hammett in 2009
Tony Benn was a prolific author and diarist. The Tolpuddle Martyrs' Shop has a selection of his books: